In Tuesday’s 7-3 Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the game slid away from the Maple Leafs after Michael Bunting was given a match penalty for a hit to the head of Erik Cernak. The NHL disciplinary meeting was held and, as a result, it was learned that Bunting received a three-game suspension.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Marner, Bunting & Woll
Why Such a Long Suspension?
During the postseason, this length of suspension would be the equivalent of a six-game suspension during the regular season. What’s as interesting is that Bunting has never been previously suspended. Although he has a reputation for playing on the edge, he’s never actually been forced to miss a game.
He’s a first-time offender; and, usually, there’s usually some leniency with first-timers. It’s repeat offenders who get the longer suspensions. So why did the NHL’s disciplinary system throw the book at Bunting?
One reason is that Cernak is injured and already has been ruled out for tonight’s game. A second reason is that Bunting’s hit was pretty blatant – he clearly used his elbow on Cernak’s head. A third reason is that, although Bunting hasn’t been suspended, he has been fined before for diving or embellishing.
Former NHL Referee Kerry Fraser Weighs in on the Suspension
In a Sportsnet video, NHL official Kerry Fraser joined Drive Time to talk about the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s decision to suspend Bunting. In the video below, you can hear his conversation.
Fraser discussed the hit made by Bunting and the resulting three-game suspension. He believed the suspension made sense but agreed that three games is a big number in a potential seven-game series. He also commented about how the referees assessed the penalty and believed that they made the right call in giving Bunting a match penalty for making deliberate contact to his opponent’s head.
Fraser also noted his own reaction to the play. Although he didn’t see the game, he did see the replay and reported that his gut reaction was that the hit was bad and that it warranted a match penalty.
Summarizing the Three Reasons for Such a Long Penalty
In the end, Bunting received a three-game suspension for his illegal check to the head of Cernak. The discussion on the video outlined three reasons for such a long suspension.
First, hits to the head are taken very seriously in the NHL. That’s because there’s a risk of serious injury to the targeted player. The NHL has made a concerted effort to crack down on hits to the head in recent years. In addition, players who have made illegal hits to the head can expect to be assessed significant suspensions.
Second, Bunting’s hit was deemed to be intentional. The fact that it wasn’t an accident likely contributed to the length of the suspension. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety takes intent into account when it determines suspensions. A player deemed to have deliberately targeted an opposing player’s head should expect a longer suspension.
Related: Maple Leafs Get Clobbered by Lightning: What Can Be Improved?
Third, and finally, Bunting’s prior disciplinary history likely played a role in the length of the suspension. He’s been walking a fine line for a while now. In fact, during the last part of the season, it seemed that referees were watching Bunting carefully.
He’s been fined in the past for embellishment, but he’s never been suspended before. Still, his reputation for playing on the edge means that the NHL likely is watching him more carefully. In some ways, he’s a repeat offender even if he hasn’t been suspended before.
Now What Happens?
So, what happens to Bunting when his three games have been served? If the Maple Leafs are still in the playoffs, will he play? And, if he does, how much rope will referees give him?
Right now, it’s no surprise that Matthew Knies is skating on the team’s third line and getting ready for some postseason action.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS’ FANS WATCH NIGHTMARE LOSS: HOME ICE EDGE GONE
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